XP Support Is Finished – But Can You Still Safely Use The Operating System?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite Microsoft finally pulling the plug on its XP operating system it still has a wide user base. Alex Balan, Head of Product Management, BullGuard, offers insight into what the lack of support means and how you can protect yourself from malware and cyber crime if you’re still running XP.

It’s finally happened. Microsoft has withdrawn support for the hugely popular Windows XP operating system. This means it will no longer provide security upgrades to patch holes in XP. In turn, this means that XP users will potentially be vulnerable to cyber threats that target these holes.

In a sign of just how widespread this threat is perceived to be the UK government has shelled out £5.5 million to the software behemoth to continue offering support.

Microsoft had to ditch support for XP if it was to continue with its present business model of releasing new operating system versions every few years. After all XP is 13 years old, which in technology terms makes it almost Jurassic.

Telling it as it is

But it’s interesting to listen to channel resellers take on the topic. These are the people who sell software into companies, often small businesses, up and down the country. On the surface some will you that the latest and greatest Windows 8 operating system is precisely that – the latest and the greatest. Others will tell you for all the new and clever features of Windows 8 many of their customers prefer to stick with XP because it does a job and that’s all they need software to do.

In short, many XP users are simply not interested in the bells and whistles, or the tiled interface of Windows 8. And many will simply carry on using XP and rely on security software to keep everything running well.

ATMs, XP and cyber bugs

But the withdrawal of XP support is going to cause problems for sure. There’s currently a scramble taking place among banks whose ATM systems use Windows XP to upgrade the systems.

The larger financial firms with significant IT resources will either be extending support with Microsoft or using their in-house teams to meet security needs. One of the reasons why banks are still using XP on ATMs is that they generally only use a small part of the operating system and also have their own layers of security on top.

There is another thing to keep in mind too and one that hasn’t garnered as much attention. Given that Microsoft has finally ditched support for XP there’s a good chance that it will also drop support for development tools that produce software compatible with XP. This means that most software vendors will be forced into not supporting XP at some point. We can’t say when this will happen, though it’s unlikely to be this year, but the moment will surely arrive.

Good antivirus, good protection

So it’s inevitable that the stalwart XP users who don’t want to move to a new operating system will at some point be forced into the change. In the meantime, if you are running XP and are happy to continue doing so, make sure that you’ve got good antivirus software on your computer.

Ensure its got good virus detection tools such as a combination of signature and behavioural detection techniques and that it updates regularly. In this way, any cyber threats that are directed towards XP vulnerabilities will be picked up and stopped from causing damage.

But don’t use free antivirus software. It can’t match the functionality of paid for antivirus which delivers automatic screening of web links and the automatic scanning or email attachments. This is an important point because web links and email attachments will likely be a popular means to hide malicious code aimed at exploiting any newly discovered XP vulnerabilities.

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